As a parent beginning the divorce process, one of your main concerns may be about your ability to be with your child and make decisions that affect his or her well-being. Washington courts prefer parents to work together to form a mutually agreeable parenting plan whenever possible. This means that most likely you and your child’s other parent will work together to decide where your child will live and who will be able to make decisions regarding your child’s upbringing.

However, if you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement, you may each submit a parenting plan to the court, and the court will decide on a parenting plan. When the court must decide on a parenting arrangement, it do so based on the best interests of your child.

Factors the court may consider

Your child’s emotional growth, health and stability, and physical care are some of the court’s main concerns when determining what is in your child’s best interests. When considering how to award decision-making authority, the court may also consider each parent’s history of decision making, each parent’s ability and desire to cooperate with decision making, and how close you and the other parent live to each other.

When considering which residential schedule to award, some of the court’s considerations may include:

  • The child’s relationship with you and the other parent
  • Each parent’s history of providing care for the child
  • Each parent’s wishes
  • Your child’s wishes
  • Each parent’s employment schedule

What should be included in a parenting plan

Typically, it is in a child’s best interest to maintain a relationship with both parents. Additionally, courts favor plans that minimize change to the existing pattern of interaction between each parent and their child.

A good parenting plan should:

  • Address how your child’s physical care will be provided
  • Aim to maintain your child’s emotional stability
  • Identify how your child’s changing needs will be met
  • Detail the authority and responsibilities each parent will have for your child
  • Explain how your child’s exposure to parental conflict will be minimized

Parents tend to have the most control over the final parenting plan when they work together to create the plan. However, sometimes it is not possible to collaborate. In case that occurs, it can be helpful to know how a court may make decisions regarding the care of your child.